How brands use user-generated content in marketing

User-generated content is any form of content – text, photos, videos, comments, and reviews – created by your customers and billions of other internet users. Blogging platforms like Blogger and WordPress have helped anyone publish and distribute content to global audiences without a middle man and free of charge. Social media channels have taken that to another level with their easy-to-use content sharing, likes, and commenting, and viral mechanisms for distribution.

I'm sure you've noticed many brands creating user-generated content campaigns on social media channels. In UGC campaigns, brands inspire their customers and other stakeholders to create content and participate in competitions.

Using user-generated content in marketing doesn't have to be complicated and, for many businesses, it's a natural way of building and strengthening relationships with customers. Typically, brands ask customers to leave feedback and reviews by using a branded hashtag on social media channels. Gathering the best of those and embedding a social media feed onto the brand website helps brands increase time spent on site - and conversion rates can soar because of the social proof.

A great example of a hashtag campaign is the GoPro Awards, which engages fans to capture their best moments with their GoPro products and then submit their entries to the competition. GoPro rewards the best entries with vouchers, gear, and, most importantly, recognition from other GoPro community members. GoPro shares the best entries on their social media accounts, and the UGC feed is embedded on the GoPro Awards page.

User-generated content embedded into GoPro Awards Page

Why brands use user-generated content in marketing?

What are the key reasons brands get started with user-generated content marketing and why should your brand care? Here are three reasons why UGC should be part of your marketing strategy – it helps you to:

  1. Build a relationship with customers
  2. Grow brand awareness and reach
  3. Increase conversions with social proof

1. Build a relationship with customers

My grandpa ran a local grocery store for 40 years and knew most of his customers personally. But these days many businesses build customer relationships online. You might provide a mass-market product or even self-service online, and the interactions with your customers are virtual.

How do you build a customer relationship in today's business environment?

Social media provides an excellent opportunity to gather feedback and connect with customers. This builds the bond with your brand, while generating authentic content that can be used for marketing. A straightforward example is to ask your customers to leave feedback and reviews with a branded hashtag on social media. By gathering the reviews in one place and looking at the user-generated content, texts, images, and videos, you'll be able to identify your customers' common phrases, problems, and life situations. UGC will hopefully reveal plenty of happy customers who enjoy your services but you might find inspirational ideas for further product and service development too.

A more advanced option could be to run something like a hashtag campaign that asks your customers to participate in a seasonal competition - or get creative with your product. Many schools and universities ask students to share their experiences - and this helps them to reach out to parents and students selecting their school. Tourism marketing websites like France.fr displays UGC from a large group of stakeholders providing accommodation, running tourist attractions, and organising travel tours.

User-generated content feed displayed on a tourism marketing website

No matter which path you select and what type of business you're running, UGC helps you turn customers into brand advocates. It also helps you build closer relationships by getting you closer to your customers. UGC campaigns provide insights on how your customers describe your services and products in their own words.

2. Grow brand awareness and reach

One of the key benefits of a user-generated content campaign is the growth of brand awareness and reach on social media.

I'm sure you've noticed that social media channels prioritise posts by friends over brands.

The reason is pretty simple – social media channels make more money, the longer we stay inside their apps. They try to serve us posts that we are more likely to enjoy and will keep us browsing the feed. The balance of posts from our friends, native content from brands, and direct advertising is continuously optimised to make us coming back more frequently. The longer we stay, the more ads they can display too.

User-generated content campaigns work so well because the social media channels prioritise posts from our friends, and they usually gather more likes, comments, and other interactions. Some of your brand posts might get a decent amount of interactions – especially if you pay for it – but nothing can beat the engagement of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of customers sharing your story.

This all means that the marketer's first job with UGC is to make sure people are mentioning their brand and branded hashtag - and their friends engage with these posts. The best UGC campaigns include a call-to-action asking your customers to participate together with their connections: friends, family members, colleagues, etc.

As a side effect, you'll also grow the number of followers on your social media channels as your customers' friends get to know with your products and services through social proof and recommendations.

You might not be a business serving consumers directly, or it's not possible to share your customer success stories in public. In this case, don't be fooled into thinking user-generated content wouldn't be relevant for your business. All of us have stakeholders that can help us to increase awareness and reach with UGC.

For example, many cities and government organisations co-produce services, and it's easy to find shared themes and marketing goals for a branded hashtag. Employees of your company might be thought leaders within a specific industry. Creating a user-generated campaign with your employees will promote your brand within their networks and increase the chance of finding talent in the future. Influencer marketing and employee advocacy are the buzzwords while, in fact, we could just say the user-generated content created by your employees.

No matter the size of the company and industry, user-generated content campaigns will help you increase your brand's awareness and reach on social media channels.

3. Increase conversions with social proof

And last but certainly not least, UGC drives conversions.

A social media feed with social proof embedded on your homepage, or product pages, increases time spent on site and drives traffic back to social media channels.

We are all familiar with customer testimonials on websites as social proof. Still, it's often time-consuming to gather them, and updating new ones usually requires changes to your website by a developer. With tools like Flockler, you can collect user-generated content, testimonials, reviews, and feedback from customers on social media channels – you can embed them as a wall, carousel, or grid into your website and keep it up to date without any technical skills.

People don't always trust content from brands alone. And even before the social media era, we asked our friends, neighbours, and other networks for tips and recommendations. As a marketer, you can build and increase trust with UGC campaigns that display positive feedback on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. 

Seeing authentic images and videos from others helps us evaluate if the product or service is the right fit. According to the latest research and statistics on social media usage, 43% of social media users say they research products via social media channels, and seeing a high number of likes and comments increases the likelihood of purchase.

User-generated content campaigns help you to sell more through your website - and drive more traffic from social media channels back to your website.

UGC 101: How to create a user-generated content campaign

One of the most typical support questions is how to launch UGC campaigns and what's required at the start. Here are six steps on how to create a user-generated content campaign:

  1. Choose social media network and your UGC campaign hashtag
  2. Set goals for a UGC campaign
  3. Set up automated feeds gathering UGC
  4. Engage your customers in creating UGC
  5. Display UGC in any digital service
  6. Measure the results of your UGC campaign

1. Choose social media network and your UGC campaign hashtag

The first steps are to choose the social media channel most suitable for your user-generated content campaign and create a catchy hashtag. The hashtag needs to be unique – make sure to check with the search function of the specific social media service to make sure that hashtag hasn't been used elsewhere. It needs to be easy to remember and closely related to your brand. Your goal is to build a community of proud brand advocates sharing the hashtag with others – if you aren't able to use your product name, try finding a catchy word your customers feel familiar with.

It will be an easy task for some companies that already have an active and engaged audience on a specific social media channel. A great example of this is travel and tourism brands that can get started with Instagram images and videos shared by their customers straight away. Without exception, there are already travellers sharing UGC on a travel destination.

But sometimes you'll need to start from scratch – to help you plan the campaign, you could ask yourself:

  • Which channels do my customers like the best? It often depends on the demographics of your audience.
  • What content format works the best with my products and services? Text, images, or videos?
  • Which channel would have the highest ROI in the long term?

It's best to start with one or a maximum of two channels and select the channel that will have the most value for both you and your customers.

Each social media channel has slightly different features and, mostly for privacy reasons, some can restrict the types of content that are available for you to gather and display on your website. Here's a list of social media channels and content types that you can use for your UGC campaign.

Sometimes you might prefer to gather content from outside of social media channels too. That might be related to your audience demographics or the nature of the content you are looking for your customers to create. Our embeddable upload form for text, images, and videos might come in handy – with Flockler's technology, you can display posts submitted via upload alongside the UGC gathered from social media channels, all in one place.

2. Set goals for the UGC campaign

After selecting the most suitable social media channel for your UGC campaign, the natural next step is to list your goals.

Are you looking to maximise the number of posts or engagement on social media channels? Do you need more views for your branded content on social media channels and higher reach? Or are you planning to use UGC as customer testimonials on your website?

Answering some of those questions will help you to define what success looks like.

For example, generating a high number of UGC entries will require a relatively simple call-to-action, such as posting a tweet mentioning a branded hashtag. The higher volume will most likely increase the total engagement and traffic to your social media profile. On the other hand, asking users to get creative and participate in a video challenge is an example of a lower volume but potentially higher value user-generated content campaign.

3. Set up automated feeds gathering UGC

Once you've created plans and goals for your UGC campaign, it's time to set up a social media aggregator like Flockler to gather all the entries. You can decide to display all the posts automatically but often we recommend the moderation of entries from user-generated content campaigns. With Flockler, the automation helps you to gather, filter, and display the entries. You're in full control of what content is displayed.

Setting up the automation and gathering content from social media channels such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and more couldn't be easier. Here's a one-minute video demonstrating how to gather content by any hashtag on Instagram:

You can gather any public posts mentioning a hashtag on Instagram. You don't need separate permission to display images on your website, assuming you follow the guidelines of each social media channel. Flockler will take care of that automatically, and you can concentrate on the success of the campaign. However, if you are looking to use images from advertising campaigns outside of your website and other digital services, and need to edit the original content, permission is required.

You can gather much more than just Instagram hashtag feeds – here's the full list of supported social media channels and content types.

4. Engage your customers in creating UGC

Now that you've set up automated feeds gathering content, the next step is to launch your campaign and the call-to-action to your audience.

I'm sure you've got websites, social media channels, email marketing, internal communications tools, print materials, product packaging, shops or offices, etc. to promote the campaign hashtag. Even though you might think the launch needs a Big Bang initially, it's often better to start slow and build momentum.

Usually, the best way to start is to reach out to some of your most engaged and active audience members and encourage them to join the campaign. But instead of the highest possible number of entries, concentrate on the quality and authenticity of posts. The first entries typically define the future direction and the long term success of the UGC campaign. Your audience needs to feel they are leading the way and that they are proud to participate. As a marketer, your role is to facilitate and steer the direction and trust your customers to use their intuition and imagination.

How do you know what's the right call-to-action and encourages the audience to participate? A successful UGC campaign call-to-action will:

  • Ask something specific
  • Spark emotions
  • Tap into topics that your audience loves
  • Be fun to participate in

5. Display UGC in any digital service

To maximize your user-generated content campaign's value, it makes sense to display some of the best entries on your websites, mobile apps, intranets, digital displays, and any other digital spaces. The more visibility you create with your existing tools and services, the more people will be encouraged to participate and join your campaign.

With Flockler, you'll get four different display options out of the box - and they can be further customised to fit your brand look & feel. You don't need any developer skills, and Flockler's team is happy to help you get started. All the layouts automatically and responsively fit the screen size, or the specific area that you're displaying on.

UGC campaign content on Milka's website

For inspiration, see examples of a user-generated content campaign further down this post and take a look at our latest case studies with GoPro, Metallica, Campari, and more.

6. Measure the results of your UGC campaign

The last step is to make sure you measure the results of your campaign.

On your website, you can use your favourite analytics tools like Google Analytics to see how people interact with the posts (e.g., clicks to view the post on social media) and how a social media feed increases the time spent on your services.

With Flockler, you can view all the entries and the number of interactions on social media channels (likes, comments, retweets, etc.). You can also purchase an additional analytics service to get an extensive report on the number of posts, engagement on social channels, the most active users, the most popular posts, and more.

Examples of user-generated content campaigns

It's always best to learn from others' success and how they've achieved the best results. Here are some of the best examples of user-generated content campaigns for your inspiration.

Natural History Museum in London and LEGO #NHMLEGO

Instagram images of the user-generated content campaign by Natural History Museum in London and LEGO

If you put together one of London's favourite museums and LEGO's creativity, what could go wrong? These two innovative brands' joint campaign is asking school kids to get creative and create a LEGO Life Form that could survive four different environments. The entries are gathered together and displayed on the museum's website.

Key takeaway: challenges and tasks created together with friends and family maximise your campaign's potential to go viral. First of all, the entries are shared on social media by multiple people. Secondly, they gather likes and comments from the joint social networks of each participant. And lastly, challenges are often much more fun with a group of friends or family members involved.

Feyenoord FC #FeyenoordLife

Feyenoord FC's social media wall embedded into the website.

What's the best way for sports teams to increase sales of fan merchandise? Feyenoord FC, one of the most successful teams in the Dutch premier league, asks fans to share their #FeyenoordLife wearing the team jersey. As a result, their homepage was quickly filled in with families wearing the club's full outfit.

Key takeaway: If you're launching a new product or looking to increase the reach and awareness on social media channels, just asking customers to share your brand is one of the best ways to spark a response. If you have a broad audience, you can narrow your call-to-action with a topic or seasonal theme.

Opus Art Supplies #opusartweek

Instagram images of the user-generated content competition by Opus Art Supplies

The Canadian webshop of fine art materials, digital printing, picture frames, and more ran a weekly competition where customers shared things they love about Canada. The entries are all gathered in a virtual art gallery of Canadian nature, landscapes, sports, and culture. Wow!

Key takeaway: Opus Art Supplies' UGC campaign is built for customers already using their products and who are proud to share their entries with friends and family online. They have successfully tapped into Canadian themes that their audience loves, feels close to, and will definitely spark likes and comments from their friends and family too.

With Flockler, you can gather and display social media feeds from your favourite channels. See the full list of supported content types and sources

Flockler helps marketers like you to create social media feeds and display user-generated content on any digital service increasing dwell time and drive conversions.

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